Three million displaced in Bihar floods
Monday, 01 September 2008

REUTERS, PATNA, India- Authorities struggling to provide aid after devastating floods in Bihar said on Sunday they needed more boats and rescuers to help hundreds of thousands of people still marooned in remote villages.

Bad weather and heavy rain over the past few days have hampered rescue and relief operations in the worst-ever floods to hit Bihar state in 50 years, officials said.

"I can't say specifically how many people are still stranded in floods," Nitish Mishra, the state's disaster management minister said on Sunday.

"But their numbers are in lakhs (hundreds of thousands) and we require more resources, more boats, army and rescue efforts to evacuate them."

Floods have killed more than 1,000 people in South Asia since the monsoon began in June, mainly in Uttar Pradesh, where 785 people died, and deaths were also reported in Nepal and Bangladesh.

In Bihar, the toll rose to 90 on Sunday with five more people drowning overnight in separate districts.

At least 3 million people have been displaced and those figures could rise as heavy rain continued, officials said.

Television pictures showed villagers holding on to tails of cattle as they crossed flooded roads with belongings on their heads. Some were seen frantically waving at a few boatmen to come and rescue them.

"I presented my buffalo to the boatman in exchange for a place in his boat since I don't have any money," Shambhoo Yadav, a rescued villager said.

Authorities also complained that thousands of villagers have refused to be evacuated and go to camps, saying they wanted to stay back and protect their belongings.

The latest flooding occurred after the Kosi river burst a dam in neighbouring Nepal earlier this month and changed its course, swamping hundreds of villages in Bihar and destroying more than 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of farmlands.

In Nepal, officials said repairing the dam was under way but turning the river back to its original course would take time.

At least seven people were killed in monsoon floods and landslides in Nepal on Saturday, raising the monsoon-related death toll in the Himalayan nation to more than 100 this year.

NO RELIEF

Villagers in Bihar complained that relief was not reaching them and many are living without food for three-four days.

"We ate after nearly a week today," Manohar Prasad, a rescued villager from flood-hit Madhepura district told reporters at a camp near Patna. "Some people donated us money," he said, while eating some bread.

The Bihar government has been severely criticised by newspapers for failing to act in time to evacuate villagers.

More than 350,000 people have been evacuated over the past 11 days, officials said, admitting they did not have enough boats or resources to step up relief operations.

A Reuters photographer in Bihar said people were fighting among themselves to lay their hands on air-dropped food.

Cases of diarrhoea were beginning to be reported from many relief camps in the state, UNICEF said.

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